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Parks Are Not Just Carbon Offsetters

By George Schmok

Last month when I wrote about limiting density, almost all of the quoted statistics came from either National Geographic or Scientific American magazines. In one of the issues there was a picture of urban sprawl in Henderson, Nevada. Row upon row, street upon street of single-family residences made for a picture that no one could say was pretty, except maybe the developer (assuming they were built and sold before the crash of '08). Now, I won't discuss whether housing or desert was a better use of the land, and I won't revisit limiting density in resource deprived environments, but besides the lack of solar roofing, the one thing that really struck me about the Henderson project was the absolute absence of any park. There had to be at least a thousand homes in the picture, but no place in sight to congregate and enjoy an afternoon in the company of nature and with members of the community. Now that is poor planning.

I grew up is the suburban sprawl of Costa Mesa, California, and I have to tell you it was awesome! Within a 10 minute bike ride, never crossing a signal-lit street, there were four elementary schools (the fields of which we converted to our own personal after-school parks), one junior high (ditto on the field/park), three formal parks with play structures and ball fields, and perhaps the greatest open space of all, the ditch. The ditch was a drainage canal that paralleled the Santa Ana River basin. It was lined with boulders, eventually led to the beach at Newport, and was home to a broad range of wildlife. While I am quite sure it wasn't designed as a playground, I learned more about environmental biology in that ditch than I have since. On any one day you could find a heron's nest, a clutch of tadpoles, crawdads, squirrels, guppies, snakes, lizards, praying mantises, caterpillars, seagulls, hawks, falcons and even vultures.

Whether we were playing football on the schools grounds, tree climbing in the parks, wild game hunting in the ditch or traversing in between over the wide, sidewalk-lined streets, those "parks" really defined our community. We were often alone, but never out of sight. It was always, "Hey, Mr. Vaughn," or "Hi, Mrs. Richards," for every turn took us past a house or dog walker. We knew both the people and the dogs.

So when I viewed that picture of Henderson and the glaring absence of open space, planned or otherwise, my heart sank for the lost opportunities to teach the youth and bring together the members of the community.

Parks, playgrounds, sports fields and open spaces are not just nice options for a development, they are necessities. They are not things that need to be driven to, nor are they excluded grounds meant to preserve nature. They are needed by a community to promote the health and welfare of residents. (Yes, safety is also an issue, but safety should never be confused with sterility.) Parks are not carbon offsetters, nor are they stormwater managers. Of course, they can act as environmental stewards, but that should never be the main purpose of a park.

Parks are about people and learning and bugs and critters. They're about interactions and community. They're about play and rest. They're about young and old. They're about bringing people and nature together and providing space for action, interaction and contemplation. Today it seems that parks have taken on a role of code enforcement, nature preservation, planned open space and digital appropriateness. I just hope that as we move forward in our built environment the real purpose of a park will always remain the main purpose of a park . . .

God bless . . .

George Schmok, Publisher


Psalms 23:1-2 ..."The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul."

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November 13, 2019, 7:45 pm PDT

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